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Biden says ‘May 1 deadline’ is hard in terms of tactical reasons

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(Last Updated On: March 26, 2021)

U.S. President Joe Biden on Thursday at the first formal White House news conference of his presidency said that it would be “hard” to withdraw the last U.S. troops from Afghanistan by a May 1 deadline, but he added that he did not think they still would be there next year, Reuters reported.

Biden comments come as his administration strives to build international pressure on the Taliban and U.S.-backed Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s government to reach a peace agreement and a ceasefire before the deadline.

According to Reuters report peace talks, however, are stalled and by suggesting U.S. troops would be gone next year, Biden risked weakening Ghani’s bargaining hand and encouraging the Taliban, who U.S. officials say have stepped up violence in their quest to oust him, to play for time, some analysts said.

During the news conference Biden said it would be hard to meet the May 1 deadline to withdraw the last 3,500 U.S. troops “just in terms of tactical reasons.”

“It’s gone be hard to meet May 1 deadline in terms of tactical reasons hard to get those troops out,” Biden told reporters.

He apparently was referring to the enormous logistical challenges of pulling out the roughly 10,000 American and foreign troops and their equipment within the next six weeks.

Biden was asked if it was possible that there still would be U.S troops in Afghanistan next year. “I can’t picture that being the case,” he responded.

The Taliban have indicated they could resume attacks on foreign troops if Biden does not meet the May 1 deadline.

The deadline was set in a February 2020 deal struck with the Taliban under former President Donald Trump.

It called for a phased conditions-based drawdown of U.S. troops from America’s longest war. The Taliban were required to prevent Islamist militant groups such as al Qaeda from using Afghanistan as a base from which to attack U.S. and allied targets.

Trump, however, ordered the drawdown to proceed even though violence escalated, U.S. officials said the Taliban had failed to cut ties with al Qaeda and disputes delayed the start of the intra-Afghan talks on a ceasefire and a settlement to decades of strife.

Washington, meanwhile, has yet to act on its commitment to have U.N. and U.S. sanctions on senior Taliban leaders lifted.

The Taliban deny they are responsible for the surge in bloodletting or that there are al Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan.

Biden noted that Secretary of State Antony Blinken has been in Europe meeting with U.S. allies that have troops in Afghanistan and “if we leave, we are going to do so in a safe and orderly way.”

“The question is how and in what circumstances do we meet that agreement that was made by President Trump to leave under a deal that looks like it’s not being able to be worked out to begin with,” Biden said.

“We will leave. The question is when we leave,” he added.

U.S. peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, who negotiated the withdrawal deal for Trump and was kept on by Biden, has circulated a U.S.-drafted peace proposal that would replace Ghani’s government with an interim power-sharing administration.

Ghani repeatedly has rejected stepping aside, saying any transfer of power would have to take place through elections as required by the constitution. Taliban officials have said they would not participate in an interim government, but would recommend members.

Biden comments comes after former US National Security Advisor HR McMaster said on Wednesday night he is very concerned about the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan and felt it could result in a “catastrophe” for the Afghan people and for the region.

Speaking at a Hoover Institute debate, McMaster said this “so-called responsible end of the war in Afghanistan, which I think could be catastrophic not only for the Afghan people but for the people of the region, for Europe; and also result in increased risk from Jihadist terrorist organizations”.

McMaster said he would like to ask President Joe Biden about the “resurrection of the language of responsible end of the war”. He said this term was last used in 2011 regarding the Iraq withdrawal.

“Of course we know what happened a couple of years later with the rise of ISIS there,” he said adding whether Biden was, as such, concerned “about replicating that experience in Afghanistan in a way that creates a humanitarian catastrophe.”

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US ‘deeply troubled’ by attacks on civilians as Taliban sweep across Afghanistan

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(Last Updated On: July 28, 2021)

The United States said on Wednesday it was deeply troubled by reports of escalating attacks on civilians as the Taliban sweep across Afghanistan and Washington pulls out its last remaining troops and ends its longest war.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken, on a visit to India, said the only path to peace in Afghanistan was through negotiations, which all parties must take seriously.

Taliban insurgents have captured districts across Afghanistan and seized vital border control points in recent weeks, as Washington withdraws its last troops after 20 years. The Pentagon now estimates that the fighters control more than half of Afghanistan‘s district centres.

The surge has raised the prospect that the militants could return to power. Millions of people fled their extreme violence during their last period of rule from 1996-2001, when they staged public executions of their foes, banned women from work and education and hosted Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda network.

The Taliban say they will treat civilians well if they return to power, and will not allow the country to be used as a base for international terrorism.

Describing reports of attacks on civilians as “deeply, deeply troubling”, Blinken said: “An Afghanistan that commits atrocities against its own people would become a pariah state.

“There’s only one path, and that’s at the negotiating table, to resolve the conflict peacefully.”

The United Nations reported this week that civilian casualties had been surging in recent weeks, with as many killed in May-June as in the previous four months. The report did not cover casualties in July, when fighting has intensified further.

Afghans in government-held areas have been alarmed by domestic media reports in recent days of abductions and killings of civilians in areas where the Taliban have advanced. The Taliban deny they are carrying out revenge killings.

U.S. President Joe Biden has ordered all U.S. troops out of the country, fulfilling a policy pledge made by his predecessor Donald Trump, despite warnings from American generals of the potential for renewed civil war without foreign troops to protect the Kabul government.

Peace talks between the government and the Taliban in Qatar have largely stalled, with the Taliban showing little interest in negotiating while they are gaining on the battlefield.

CHINA HOSTS TALIBAN DELEGATION

Taliban delegations have visited neighbouring countries in recent weeks, gaining international standing for a movement that had been treated as outcasts and banned as terrorists for most of the past two decades.

The latest regional power to host them was China, whose Foreign Minister Wang Yi met a nine-person delegation led by Taliban deputy leader Mullah Baradar Akhund in the northern Chinese city of Tianjin during a two-day visit.

Wang said the Taliban were expected to “play an important role in the process of peaceful reconciliation and reconstruction in Afghanistan“, according to a readout of the meeting from the Chinese Foreign Ministry.

Taliban delegations have also visited Iran and Russia in recent weeks. The group has an office in Qatar.

“Politics, economy and issues related to the security of both countries and the current situation of Afghanistan and the peace process were discussed in the meetings,” Taliban spokesperson Mohammed Naeem tweeted about the China visit.

“(The) delegation assured China that they will not allow anyone to use Afghan soil against China,” Naeem said. “China also reiterated its commitment of continuation of their assistance with Afghans and said they will not interfere in Afghanistan‘s issues but will help to solve the problems and restoration of peace in the country.”

Moscow, which fought for a decade in Afghanistan in the 1980s, said it was beefing up the combat capabilities at its military base in Tajikistan, a small former Soviet republic that borders Afghanistan.

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, visiting Tajikistan on Wednesday, said the security situation had rapidly deteriorated in Afghanistan during a “hasty” U.S. withdrawal.

Shoigu said Islamic State fighters were moving into Afghanistan from countries including Syria and Libya, describing their arrival as “quite seriously organised”.

“We are paying increased attention to strengthening the combat capabilities of our base and refining plans to jointly repel possible insurgent infiltration,” he said.

A senior Russian diplomat has said Moscow views Taliban gains in northern Afghanistan as having a security upside because the group is hostile to what Russia regards as more dangerous Islamist extremists.

Russia is set to hold military drills on Aug. 5-10 near Tajikistan’s Afghan border, involving more than 1,000 Russian soldiers as well as Uzbek and Tajik forces.

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China says Taliban expected to play ‘important’ Afghan peace role

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(Last Updated On: July 28, 2021)

China told a visiting Taliban delegation on Wednesday it expected the insurgent group to play an important role in ending Afghanistan‘s war and rebuilding the country, the Chinese foreign ministry said.

Nine Taliban representatives met Foreign Minister Wang Yi in the northern Chinese city of Tianjin on a two-day visit during which the peace process and security issues were discussed, a Taliban spokesperson said.

Meanwhile, the Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that China had informed the government about the Taliban visit to China.

According to the Ministry, the visit reflects China’s concerns over the security situation in Afghanistan, the presence of foreign militants alongside the

Taliban, and the country’s support for peace talks and political agreements.

China has expressed its deep concerns over recent attacks of the Taliban, “which have resulted in the increasing killing of innocent people and the displacement of tens of thousands of people.”

China has also called on the Taliban to cut ties with “regional and international terrorists.”

Wang said the Taliban is expected to “play an important role in the process of peaceful reconciliation and reconstruction in Afghanistan“, according to a readout of the meeting from the foreign ministry.

He also said that he hoped the Taliban would crack down on the East Turkestan Islamic Movement as it was a “direct threat to China’s national security,” according to the readout, referring to a group China says is active in the Xinjiang region in China’s far west.

The visit was likely to further cement the insurgent group’s recognition on the international stage at a sensitive time even as violence increases in Afghanistan. The militants have a political office in Qatar where peace talks are taking place and this month sent representatives to Iran where they had meetings with an Afghan government delegation.

“Politics, economy and issues related to the security of both countries and the current situation of Afghanistan and the peace process were discussed in the meetings,” Taliban spokesperson Mohammed Naeem tweeted about the China visit.

Naeem added that the group, led by Taliban negotiator and deputy leader Mullah Baradar Akhund, was also meeting China’s special envoy for Afghanistan and that the trip took place after an invitation from Chinese authorities.

Security in Afghanistan, with which China shares a border, has been deteriorating fast as the United States withdraws its troops by September. The Taliban has launched a flurry of offensives, taking districts and border crossings around the country while peace talks in Qatar’s capital have not made substantive progress.

“(The) delegation assured China that they will not allow anyone to use Afghan soil against China,” Naeem said. “China also reiterated its commitment of continuation of their assistance with Afghans and said they will not interfere in Afghanistan‘s issues but will help to solve the problems and restoration of peace in the country.”

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Universities to reopen once students and staff have been vaccinated

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(Last Updated On: July 28, 2021)

The Afghan Ministry of Higher Education said Wednesday that classroom-based lessons will resume at universities in 11 provinces within the next 10 days once all students and staff have been vaccinated against COVID-19.

The ministry said this includes Kabul University.

Addressing a press conference in Kabul, the minister, Abbas Basir, said once all students around the country have been vaccinated, all universities will reopen.

“We call on all [staff and students at] public and private higher education institutions to be vaccinated over the next two weeks; and if the whole country is vaccinated within fifteen days, training can resume in all provinces by August 12.

“We have asked all universities and each province to implement the vaccine campaign within two weeks and students to use this opportunity,” Basir said.

Meanwhile, a number of students who have already been vaccinated have called on all non-vaccinated students to get their vaccines so that classes can resume as normal.

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